Posted by: okathleen | February 1, 2009

“If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner…”

Samuel Pepys has been alluded to.

So too has the ragged book of riddles.

The third of the seventh lucky dip found in a Charity Shop in a Northern Town is called ‘The Importance of Living” by author Lin Yutang.

A fascinating Harvard scholar, Taoist and eloquent pontificator on a range of subjects.


From flower arranging –

.. In placing flower vases, one should avoid having them in pairs, or uniform, or in a straight row. One should also avoid binding the flowers with string. For the neatness of flowers lies exactly in their irregularity and naturalness of manner, like the prose of Tu Sungp’o, which flows on or stops as it pleases, and like the poems of Li Po, which do not necessarily go in couplets. This is true neatness…

To food

… the Chinese do not draw any distinction between food and medicine. What is good for the body is medicine and at the same time food…

But most importantly to me is the chapter ‘The Art of Writing’. Lin Yutang doesn’t pull any punches, he wades in with barrels blazing (although I’m not sure he would approve of that mixed metaphor cliche)… If only I had read this before I embarked on the scribbling path.

“Professors of composition talk about literature as carpenters talk about art. Critics analyse a literary composition by the technique of writing, as engineers measure the height and structure of Taishan by compasses.

There is no such thing as the technique of writing…. A beginner is generally dazzled by the discussion of technique – the technique of the novel, of the drama, of music and of acting on stage. He doesn’t realise that the technique of writing has nothing to do with the birth of an author… He didn’t even suspect that there is such a thing as personality, which is the foundation of all success in art and literature.”

That’s settled then.

“When the foundation is properly laid and a genuine literary personality is cultivated, style follows as a natural consequence and the little points of technique will take care of themselves. It really does not matter if he is a little confused about points of rhetoric and grammar, provided he can turn out good stuff. There are always professional readers with publishing houses whose business it is to attend to the commas, semi-colons, and split infinitives.”

The style is the man.

There we are, I have been told to drop one writing style and find my own voice. Then it was suggested that my own voice was not cutting the mustard, and I ought to be writing in the style of an author addressing the most intelligent audience possible. Then to complicate matters further, why not Kathleen, write in more than one voice? A poetic voice that can talk to the academic voice that might be lacking in this ‘research’.

Bewildering. Who is your audience.

For whom am I writing. Not me, I don’t think so, not any more.

Oh, and … if you have spent a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learnt how to live.



  1. ‘a Charity Shop in a Northern Town’: is like a line from a great, imaginary song by The Jam. Thanks for dropping in: in answer to your quandary, the essential fact remains, as George Orwell said:’Good prose is like a windowpane’. As long as you want to write about something and have something to say about it, it will be seen.
    Mr Yutang is quite wrong about technique: you can’t rely on anyone else to fix up the mechanics, especially not nowadays. I find that all the really good stuff emerges from being in the flow of it, and not from trying to pluck deathlessness out of the air.
    Of course George couldn’t write a novel to save his life: you have to know your own mind. Poetry too is like a windowpane: an infite regression of tiny ones.
    Which reminds me: if you are interested, here is the story of my lost pussy:

    I also will be back.

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